The origin, nature, and destiny of man are among the most important subjects God has revealed in His Word. Man was God’s crowning act of creation. God created mankind—male and female—in His own image. Though God created both man and animals out of the ground, He created mankind distinct from the angels and animals. Humans are moral, rational, and material beings composed of spirit and body. At creation, God prepared a special dwelling place for man—a garden temple in which mankind would worship, dwell, and commune with God. God also gave man creation mandates. God entered into a covenant of works with Adam at creation. By this covenantal arrangement, Adam was constituted as the federal representative of all mankind—that is, God established that what Adam did would be credited to his descendants as he was acting in their place. By his obedience, Adam could have secured everlasting holiness for mankind. However, when he disobeyed by eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam brought all sin and misery into the world. All mankind now fallen in Adam is under the wrath and curse of God. Thankfully, God did not choose to leave all people in that state. In the covenant of grace, God has chosen to redeem a people out of every tribe, nation, and language. By sending His eternal Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, God redeemed the elect by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—who is truly God and truly man. By union with Christ, God renews His image in the redeemed. Redeemed humanity will forever dwell in the presence of God in the new heaven and new earth. The wicked will forever perish in hell under the just wrath of God.
The Bible opens with an account of creation that culminates in the creation of man and woman as the imago Dei (the image of God). God created the habitable world for mankind to exercise dominion over as His vice-regents. There are two creation accounts in the opening chapters of Genesis—the first in Genesis 1:1–2:3 and the second in Genesis 2:4–25. The first account focuses on the beginning of creation and gives a general summary of all that God created. The second focuses on the creation of mankind as the beginning of history, since Adam was a historical being, the head of humanity. The second account also reveals more specifics about the nature of man and the specific situation in which God originally placed him. Genesis tells us that God formed man out of the dust of the ground. He also formed the animals out of the ground. The difference, however, is that God made man in His own image. As God created each of the animals, birds, and fish “according to their kind,” so God created human beings to be the “image-of-God-kind.” This serves as the ethical foundation of the sanctity and dignity of human life. We esteem and protect human life because human beings are made in God’s image.
Throughout church history, much debate has ensued about the precise nature of man as the image of God. Herman Bavinck explains the vast diversity of attempts to define the image: “There was initially a wide range of opinion in the Christian church. At times it was located in the human body, then in rationality, or in the freedom of the will, then again in dominion over the created world, or also in other moral qualities such as love, justice, and the like.”
Some theologians have considered the image of God narrowly, in terms of the inner moral and rational life of men and women. This coincides with the Apostolic teaching about the renewal of the image of God through Christ in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Still others considered the image more broadly, including the body of man and the fact that God commissioned man to exercise dominion over the newly created world. There is a sense in which both the narrow and the broadly considered definitions explain the entire picture of what distinguishes man from the animals and the angels. The moral and rational parts of man are the mind, will, heart, emotions, and conscience. The material part of man is the physical body. In Scripture, the “soul” of an individual is sometimes a reference to the seat of his or her inner life and sometimes a reference to the whole person, spirit and body. After all, man exists as a duality, a creature composed of body and soul.
As God’s vice-regent, man was to guard and protect the garden from evil. Adam and Eve were to expand the boundaries of the garden by being fruitful and multiplying. Mankind was to turn the world into the garden temple, full of righteous image bearers who would reflect the glory and image of God. The creation ordinances and the Sabbath day reveal that God created man to both work and rest. The Sabbath day also had an eschatological element to it. It indicated to Adam that there was something higher to which he was meant to attain—namely, the consummation of holiness and eternal life. When God entered into the covenant of works with Adam at creation, the Sabbath day and the Tree of Life served as sacraments of this covenantal arrangement.
Human nature is unique from that of the angels in that God created human beings to descend from a federal head. As the representative of humanity, Adam acted as a public person in the covenant of works (Rom 5:12–19). Adam’s actions affected the entire human race. If he had obeyed by not eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would have secured the entire human race in holiness forever. Since he disobeyed and ate of the fruit of the tree God commanded him not to eat, Adam brought all sin and misery into the world. Fallen in Adam, all people are now born dead in sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1–4). Every one of Adam’s descendants by ordinary generation has inherited both the guilt and the corruption of Adam’s sin. Death has spread to all men, since all fell in Adam. The death that God promised would come upon man if he disobeyed included spiritual, physical, and eternal death. All mankind now stands condemned by nature and is under the wrath and curse of God.
The representative nature with which God created Adam made it possible for the eternal Son of God to come into the world in the likeness of sinful men and to represent the elect as the last Adam in the covenant of grace. Christ is the federal head of His people. Jesus descended from Adam by the Virgin Mary. In this way, He is truly human yet without the guilt or corruption of Adam’s sin. As the representative last Adam, Jesus came to do what Adam failed to do and to undo all that Adam did. He kept the law of God perfectly and died in our place under the guilt of our sin and the wrath of God. Jesus bore the sin of those descendants of Adam who were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. In His resurrection, Jesus overcame death, the curse, and the judgment that spread to Adam’s descendants. Jesus came to defeat this last enemy.
God not only removes the guilt of Adam’s sin by punishing Jesus for the sins of His people, but He also renews the image in His people by their union with Christ—who is Himself the image of the invisible God. Through faith in Christ, God renews His people in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). He begins to restore the image now corrupted by the fall.
The destiny of man is also a central teaching of Scripture. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that all who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have eternal life. When they die, their spirits immediately go to be with their God. The spirits of the wicked are sent to hell. At the resurrection on the last day, the bodies of the righteous will be raised incorruptible, and the righteous will dwell forever with their God and Savior in the new heavens and the new earth. This is because Jesus, by His death and resurrection of Jesus, secured far more than simply the forgiveness of sin for His people. The saving work of Christ guarantees paradise restored for believers. By way of contrast, the wicked will experience a resurrection of condemnation. They will go to hell, body and spirit, for all eternity. There is no postmortem hope of escaping eternal punishment, since God’s justice is satisfied only by the death of Jesus at Calvary.
By taking sin seriously, we take man seriously. Evil may mar the divine image and cloud its brilliance, but it cannot destroy it. The image can be defaced, but it can never be erased. The most obscene symbol in human history is the Cross; yet in its ugliness it remains the most eloquent testimony to human dignity.
Besides living in fellowship with God, Adam and Eve were given the job of ruling over and caring for His creation as His vice-regents. Thus, God told them that they were to ‘subdue’ the earth and ‘have dominion’ over it—not by abusing and tyrannizing it, but by ‘working it and keeping it’ (Gen. 2:15). In doing so, they would communicate to all creation the love and power and goodness of the Creator. Perhaps most fundamentally, this is what it means to be God’s image in the world: just as an ancient Near Eastern king might set an ‘image’ of himself on a mountain as a reminder to his people of who sat on the throne, so Adam represented God’s authority to the world over which he was given dominion.
God calls humans to work and rest not merely because these are helpful suggestions for a good life but because they mark what it means to be human, because they emanate together out of the divine character in whose image we have been made. We work and rest because God does, and we are crafted in His image. This is true for all human beings, whether they realize it or not. Work is the means by which we carry out our calling as God’s image-bearers in the world, and rest is the means by which we reflect the lordship of the Creator who made us in His image.